Caregivers do a lot in a day. By “a lot,” we mean muscle work from the beginning of the shift to the end, including running, changing bedsheets, lifting heavy items, lifting patients and clients while transferring them from the bed to a chair, walking them to the bathroom and back…the list just grows.
They do all these to care for their patients, sometimes even skipping breaks and staying late. Caregivers are heroes in their own way, but since they are only human, all this lifting and turning takes a toll on their physical health.
Whether in a hospital, facility, or a client's home, the tasks and challenges for caregivers are very similar and often exactly the same, and the danger of back injury while doing these tasks is real!
This is where the use of proper body mechanics becomes crucial in preventing injuries, such as back strain and spine damages. There are many aspects to using proper body mechanics to help protect yourself from injury, but here are the most important that caregivers must always practice, regardless of the task:
1. Do a quick mental analysis of the task before you. Are you lifting a patient and transferring them to a chair? What should be done first? Where is the safest place to stand?
2. As you picture the task in your mind, do some arm and leg stretches and warm up your muscles.
3. If you are doing the heavy task with a patient, explain the steps of your approach to them. This technique is very useful, not only in keeping both caregiver and patient safe during the movement, but also in giving the patient the chance to help you while moving them.
4. Before lifting or transferring a patient, always keep your feet apart to ensure a wide and secure base of support. This technique helps keep your balance during the task.
5. Bend your knees and not your back. The heaviest force should come from the feet.
6. Stay as close as possible to the person or item to be moved because your body can best support a heavy load this way, with the force of the lift coming from the shoulders and the upper arms instead of just the lower arms.
7. Face your task so that it is directly in front of you. This approach prevents you from twisting or reaching out unnecessarily and hurting your back in the process.
8. Move as one unit so that, as you turn left, the whole body turns left and not just the upper body. This technique prevents twisting movements that can hurt the back or spine. The head and neck must also be kept aligned to prevent injuring your neck and shoulder muscles.
9. Your foot should go in the direction of your movement. This move keeps your knees and calf muscles from harm.
10. Hold on properly to the person or item to be lifted. If you fail to do this, the patient may fall and become injured, or your toes will feel how heavy the falling object really is!
11. When lifting, the force of the movement should come from the muscles of the entire arms and legs. These muscles can handle lifting better than the back muscles.
12. No sudden movements! Jerky movements can rip muscles and even fracture bones, so you must always keep this one rule in mind.
13. No lifting or turning more than you can handle. Be sure to ask for another person’s help if needed.
14. Use tools that will make your work easier. Turning sheets, mechanical or electric lifters, transfer belts, and gait belts will help keep you from injury, so do not hesitate to use them when you need them.
Being a caregiver is a rewarding job, but be careful to not let the work rob you of your own physical safety while on duty. Practicing proper body mechanics at all times is like putting on armor before battle, it protects you from unnecessary injury on the job.
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